What I’m Looking For – Line 11

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Graduating from a private boarding academy was full of ceremonies I’d never even thought of before. I’d just figured we’d put in four years, show up on a Sunday in late May, listen to some speeches, and get our diplomas. One of the ceremonies I’d never considered was Senior Recognition, an evening about half-way through our Senior year where students were recognized for their achievements and then had a chance to recognize family and teachers who had a significant impact on them.

It was also the night that scholarships were announced. As I had a pretty meager SAT score (1240, 800 verbal – 440 math…odd to think I work in computers and tax accounting isn’t it?) and a reasonable ACT score (32, not great but pretty good) I wasn’t expecting much in the scholarship department. In fact, I’d completely tuned it out.

To be fair, I wasn’t the world’s best student. I was a gifted communicator, a quick reader with a voracious appetite for anything in text, and a front-of-the-class participator. Oh, and I was (and remain) a killer test taker. But I wasn’t the world’s best homework finisher when it bored me, and I was easily distracted; but the advantages of a boarding school include “limited distractions” so I guess I was lucky on that front as well. Ultimately, I graduated with a 3.52 but I have to give some of that credit to the ridiculous number of Electives I took for the first three years, and my perfect grades in History (which I student taught), Economics, Speech and Debate, and four years of English and Religion.

The A’s in my Religion classes remain a bit of a mystery, as I tended to push the boundaries pretty hard. I was always “on the left” of the subjects that came up, and I was in an environment where being on even the moderate end of the right was unusual. I had a strong grasp of history and context, and I tended to debate the issues surrounding Adventist (or even just Christian) theology right to the breaking point. I wasn’t really contradictory, I just pushed. I did have to retract one paper I wrote titled “Ellen White, False Prophet or Girl with a Brain Injury?” and face administrative sanction…but I wrote a replacement paper and got full marks if I remember correctly.

(The replacement paper was titled “Urantia, Heavenly Messengers and Post-Adventist Metaphysical Beliefs” and was significantly more antagonistic to Adventism than my first one…and I’m not sure anyone actually read it beyond the teacher who graded it. This was my first lesson in publishing: only the title counts.)

All of which ties in to my first real act of breaking out of the cage I’d grown up in. I applied to twelve colleges and universities around the country: Amherst, Reed College, George Washington University, Boston College, Dartmouth, Stanford, Yale, Harvard, St. John’s College, UC Berkley (I remember it being Berkly, others are convinced it was UC Davis), Purdue, and Columbia. Notice that none of those schools were Adventist affiliated; and more importantly, none of those schools were Walla Walla College in central Washington where my parents met and graduated. I actively, intentionally, and specifically did NOT apply to Walla Walla. It was my way of avoiding a path I’d felt had been laid out before I was born.

If my dad was disappointed that I didn’t apply to his alma mater, he never said anything. All I wanted to do was get accepted, graduate from academy, get in my car and drive FAR FAR AWAY, and get the hell out of the rut that everyone I went to school with was stuck in. My graduating class had a matriculation rate of 98% (which, out of a class of 48, is a nice way to say all but one of us went on to college), and more than half of them went on to Walla Walla. Of the remaining 22 kids, at least half of them went on to other Adventist colleges and universities around the country (Southern University, Andrews University, Loma Linda University, etc). Only about ten of us went on to “secular” colleges and universities.

All I wanted was to NOT live the life that I could see in front of me; after four years at Gem State spending four years at Walla Walla, and then the rest of my life as an Adventist husband married to an Adventist wife with Adventist kids and we all go to Adventist church and have Adventist friends who all think Adventist thoughts they read in Adventist books written by Adventists who tell them how to be better and more faithful Adventists. I knew the world was larger than the Adventist circles I’d grown up in, and all I wanted was to get out there and find it.

I knew that my grades and my test scores weren’t great, and I was lucky to get the acceptance letters that I did get (six acceptance letters and two wait-lists), so scholarships weren’t even on the distant horizon.

Which is why people had to prod me to pay attention when they called out my name. It turned out that due to my grades, my extra curricular volunteer activities, working in Christian broadcasting, and on the recommendation of two School pastors, I had been offered a scholarship to enter the seminary program at Walla Walla College.

Like, to become an Adventist pastor.

At Walla Walla.

I realize that “oh shit” probably wasn’t the most pastoral response, but it was the only thing that came to mind. This was everything I didn’t want, all wrapped up and presented on vellum paper with the signature of the President of Walla Walla College at the bottom.

I don’t remember walking up to get the certificate, and I don’t remember shaking anyone’s hand even though there are photos to prove that it happened; but the walk back was one of the longest in my life. I essentially had thirty seconds and one hundred feet to either figure out how I was going to keep from being sucked back into the path I wanted so badly to escape, or accept my fate and submit to what seemed to be inevitable.

I was probably the most despondent scholarship recipient in history. I tried to muster an appropriate smile, but it wasn’t happening. My grandparents interpreted my flustered face and the tears in the corners of my eyes as shock and gratitude, and they were just beaming at the prospect of having a pastor in the family. To my surprise, my parents were able to see right through my fake smile and recognize the look in my eyes.

My mother didn’t say anything, and I know it’s because she had no idea what to say. My dad was actually the one to lean towards me when the presentation had moved on to the next student and attention had be focused away from us.

“I can’t imagine actually choosing to be a pastor.” He said. This was an amazing revelation coming from a man who had a degree in communications and had taught an adult Sabbath School class every week for as long as I could remember.

I stammered in a whisper, “It’s a great school, and I’m honored that I was given a scholarship…” I didn’t know what to say next.

My dad’s face softened for a moment, almost smiling. “It’s never been where you’ve focused on going, you’ve always looked further away. I never really thought about going anywhere else until I’d already been there for two years with a hitch in the military in the middle. But, there was a time when I wanted to go anywhere else in the world.”

I was struggling to get my brain out of first gear and come up with some kind of a response. My dad leaned back and looked up at the stage, then he leaned over again to impart one last thought, “I just wish you’d have picked places that weren’t so freaking expensive! University of Hawaii, University of Florida…there are lots of nice state Universities in nice places to live. And you want to go to New England for fall, winter and spring. You’re going to freeze your ass off.”

[Word Count: 1380]

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2 thoughts on “What I’m Looking For – Line 11

  1. Dads are just full of surprises.

    Yeah, as a dad myself now, I’d like to think that’s true. Up until that moment I had built my life around the moment when he dropped me off and shook my hand…sent me on my way down the path I wanted out of desperately. This time, he sat next to me and essentially gave me permission to go my own way. I don’t know what, other than time and age, was different in that moment. But the difference meant everything to me.

  2. My dad’s always been the silent type. Not cold, but definitely not warm and fuzzy either. My siblings and I always went to our mother for love and hugs and praise. The day I graduated college, we were in our house and I’d gone into the kitchen, where Dad always sits watching TV, and he looked at me and said he was proud of me, then waved me over for a hug. I know I’d hugged him as a child, but this is the only hug I have a clear memory of. It brought me to tears that day and it still does when I think about it.

    Aww, it moved me and I don’t know him at all…

    My dad wasn’t cold, or even distant really, just…busy. It got worse the older we got. By the time I was in academy, “doing” had become an all consuming activity. “Doing the office work” or “doing the sabbath school lesson prep” or “doing the cooking” or “doing the laundry” all became what had to be done right then.

    And it did. It all needed to get done, and I don’t begrudge him the effort of getting it done. My mom was writing and needed the space that his efforts created, my brother and I had a basement the size of your average two bedroom house to live in with cable and books galore, and I cooked when he was busy. We did what needed to be done.

    What we didn’t have for years was a real conversation. One between a teenage guy and his dad. By the time I was 16 we were virtual strangers.

    Overcoming that was something that would take more than a decade.

    Did I get hugs? Sure. Did I know the man who hugged me? Not for years to come.

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